California’s Private Attorneys General Act—There’s a New Sheriff in Town: You

Although many civil penalties under California’s Labor Code can be recovered against employers directly by employees, most can only be assessed and collected by the Labor and Workforce Development Agency (“LWDA”). A few years ago, California’s Legislature recognized that the LWDA lacked the resources to police all of the violations of the Labor Code, as well as the need for the vigorous assessment and collection of civil penalties. Accordingly, the Legislature enacted the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (“PAGA”), which “deputized” employees that were victims of Labor Code violations to serve as private attorneys general to collect civil penalties that previously could only be collected by the LWDA. PAGA has been dubbed California’s “bounty hunter” or “sue your boss” law by some members of the employment law community.

Under PAGA, aggrieved employees are entitled to 25% of the civil penalties—the bounty—with the remaining 75% going to the LWDA for education and enforcement purposes. Despite the fact that aggrieved employees are only entitled to 25% of the recovery, the Legislature provided two significant incentives for aggrieved employees to pursue PAGA claims. First, not only can employees maintain actions on their own behalf, they can also pursue civil penalties on behalf of “other current or former employees against whom one or more of the alleged violations was committed.” Second, employees that prevail on PAGA claims are entitled to reasonable attorney fees and costs. As such, there is no shortage of employment attorneys willing to represent aggrieved employees in PAGA actions.

Before employees can pursue civil penalties under PAGA, they must satisfy several requirements, including giving notice of their intent to pursue civil penalties to both the LWDA and their employer. Notice to the LWDA is required because the LWDA must first be given the opportunity to pursue the penalties on its own. Notice to employers serves several functions, including allowing employers to cure less serious violations. Because of these and other prerequisites, employees contemplating PAGA claims should consult immediately with an employment attorney, like the Law Offices of David S. Levy. Indeed, employees with PAGA claims should consult with an employment lawyer because they may very well have other claims against their employers.

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